April 17, 2015


Understanding ISIS’s beliefs

Back in our Feb. 20 issue of The Criterion, we published an editorial about the condemnation of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) by moderate Muslims for the barbarism it has perpetrated against Christians and other Muslims, including crucifixions and beheadings. To understand why ISIS leaders pay no attention to moderate Muslims, we must understand what they believe.

The Obama administration has denied ISIS’s religious nature, but that’s a mistake. As hard as it is for us 21st-century people to realize, ISIS really is a religious group with a sincere commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.

It isn’t often that we recommend a secular periodical to our readers, but the best explanation of ISIS we have seen is “What ISIS Really Wants,” by Graeme Wood, in the March issue of The Atlantic. It’s almost book-length, but well-researched and thorough.

It’s clear that ISIS won’t heed the admonitions of moderate Muslims because it believes that only it has the true Muslim faith, and moderate Muslims are apostates. Wood writes, “That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.”

ISIS is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people, Wood writes. “Individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks.”

ISIS is anti-Christian. Its chief spokesman, Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, said, “We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women.” According to Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel—a leading expert on ISIS’s theology—slavery, crucifixion and beheadings are medieval traditions that ISIS fighters are bringing wholesale into the present day.

ISIS publishes a magazine called Dabiq, named after the Syrian city near Aleppo. It is here where Muhammad reportedly said that the “armies of Rome” will set up their camp for a final showdown. Since the pope has no army, “Rome” might mean any “infidel” army, and America will do nicely.

In the video showing the beheading of Peter (Abdul Rahman) Kassig, the masked executioner said, “Here we are, burying the first American crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.” Of course, they expect to win the battle.

Here is the rest of the prophecy, according to Wood: “After its battle in Dabiq, the caliphate will expand and sack Istanbul. An anti-Messiah, known in Muslim apocalyptic literature as Dajjal, will come from the Khorsan region of eastern Iran and kill a vast number of the caliphate’s fighters, until just 5,000 remain, cornered in Jerusalem. Just as Dajjal prepares to finish them off, Jesus—the second-most-revered prophet in Islam—will return to Earth, spear Dajjal, and lead the Muslims to victory.”

You can understand why it’s hard to believe that ISIS members are as devout as they claim to be, or as backward-looking or apocalyptic as their actions and statements suggest. However, Wood writes, this “reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul. When a masked executioner says Allahu akbar while beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing so for religious reasons.”

Now that ISIS has been declared a caliphate with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph, Wood writes, Muslims who believe what ISIS teaches have been flocking to Syria and Iraq. That’s because a caliphate requires territory to remain legitimate. Therefore, if ISIS loses its territory, it will cease to be a caliphate.

However, Woods believes that an invasion of the Islamic State would be a huge propaganda victory for ISIS, confirming that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day crusade to kill Muslims. Rather, he writes, “Properly contained, the Islamic State is likely to be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will remain the case.”

And he says, “With every month that it fails to expand, it resembles less the conquering state of the Prophet Muhammad than yet another Middle Eastern government failing to bring prosperity to its people.”

—John F. Fink

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